Summary: 17th in a series from Ecclesiastes. One person can make a difference - either positive or negative - depending on what they do with the wisdom of God.
[“Power of One” video]
That video illustrates very well the overall theme of the passage that we’re going to look at this morning. Since we’re only covering six verses this morning, let’s go ahead and read this passage out loud together:
13 This wisdom I have also seen under the sun, and it seemed great to me: 14 There was a little city with few men in it; and a great king came against it, besieged it, and built great snares around it. 15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that same poor man. 16 Then I said: "Wisdom is better than strength. Nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, And his words are not heard.17 Words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard Rather than the shout of a ruler of fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war; But one sinner destroys much good."
Ecclesiastes 9:13-18 (NKJV)
In this passage, we’re introduced to the power of one. On one hand, there is the poor wise man who was able to save a small city with only a few men in it from the attack of a great and powerful king. That is the power of one being put to good use. On the other hand, we have the one sinner, who through the power of one destroys that which is good.
Like Qoheleth, I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on the negative aspect of the power of one. But I think it is helpful for us to reflect for a moment on how one sinner can indeed destroy much good.
In spite of our claims to the contrary, the effects of sin are almost never confined to the person who commits the sin. That is why both Jesus and Paul often pictured sin as being like yeast. If you’ve ever made bread, you know that it takes just a little bit of yeast mixed into the dough to cause the entire batch of dough to rise. And since we all live within a number of communities, when we sin, the effects of that sin spread within our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces and our churches.
Perhaps the clearest Biblical example is that of David and Bathsheba. When David looked down from his rooftop one evening and lusted for Bathsheba, he set into motion a series of events which still continue have a tremendous impact in our world today.
• Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was set up to be killed on the battlefield
• The child conceived from that illicit affair died
• David’s family became completely dysfunctional. His son Amnon raped his sister and then was killed by his brother Absalom. And then his own son Absalom rebelled against him and tried to take his kingdom.
• After his son Solomon died, the conflict within the family was so great that it led to the splitting of Israel into the southern and northern kingdoms. They have still not been reunited to this day.
Although the effects of sin may not always be that widespread, we have adequate evidence from both the Scriptures and from our own experiences to recognize that just one sin can have far ranging consequences. And that knowledge should hopefully be a strong deterrent when we’re tempted to commit some sin in our lives.
But the greater part of this passage deals with the more positive aspect of the power of one. So let’s take some time to reflect on…
HOW TO USE THE “POWER OF ONE” FOR GOOD
This passage ought to be a great encouragement to all of us who often ask ourselves, “What can just one person do?” Just one poor man in a small town was able to use the power of one to thwart the attack of a great and mighty king.
Not surprisingly, many commentators on this passage tend to spiritualize this passage and view it as an allegory where Satan is the great king and the poor wise man is Jesus. But if we just take this text at its face value based on a plain reading of the text, the author seems to be focused here on the practical value of wisdom and not the cosmological battle between good and evil.
As we’ve seen previously in the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a limit to the value of wisdom. Our wisdom will never be adequate to figure out God. And wisdom is not a guarantee of any kind of personal profit, gain or advantage in our lives. But, as Qoheleth has consistently pointed out, wisdom is certainly better than folly. But in this section, we find some additional observations about wisdom that will allow us to use the power of one for good.